IN RE: New Hanover County
No. 05 J 325, 326, 327, 328
Dean W. Hollandsworth, for petitioner-appellee New Hanover
County Department of Social Services.
Janet K. Ledbetter, for respondent-appellant.
Elizabeth Myrick Boone, for Guardian ad Litem.
Respondent-mother appeals from the termination of her parental rights in the minor children P.L.M, An.N.M., T.T.M., and A'L.M-R. (See footnote 1) We affirm.
Respondent was born in 1976; her daughters, P.L.M, An.N.M., T.T.M., and A'L.M-R., were born in 1991, 1992, 1996, and 2001, respectively. The family came to the attention of the New Hanover Department of Social Services (DSS) in January 2003, when DSS received a Children's Protective Services report alleging that An.N.M.'s emotional needs were not being met. The report wassubstantiated for neglect, and DSS worked with respondent for several months. However, another report was made in early 2003 alleging neglect as a result of respondent's drug use, and on 1 May 2003 respondent tested positive for cocaine. Petitioner filed a petition alleging that the juveniles were neglected. Nonsecure custody orders were issued 29 April 2003 and 5 May 2003, and the children were removed from respondent's home.
On 26 June 2003 the minor children were adjudicated neglected, pursuant to respondent's stipulation that:
The Juveniles . . . do not receive proper care, supervision, or discipline from [respondent], are not provided necessary remedial care and live in an environment injurious to [their] welfare. . . . [Respondent] tested positive for cocaine during a drug screen[.] . . . She has neglected to take [An.N.M.] to counseling sessions[, or ] . . . to require [An.N.M.] to consistently attend school.
In its order of adjudication and disposition, the court ordered respondent to obtain a substance abuse assessment and follow its recommendations; submit to random drug screens; sign a release giving DSS and the GAL access to respondent's treatment information; complete an approved parenting program; and obtain and maintain stable housing and employment.
Following a review hearing conducted 30 October 2003, the court entered an order finding, in relevant part, that respondent had visited her children only twice since they were removed from her home six months earlier; had submitted a fraudulent urine sample during a drug screen; had not obtained substance abuse treatment; and had not found stable housing or employment. Thecourt ordered respondent to submit to random observed drug screens, obtain inpatient substance abuse treatment, find and maintain stable housing and employment, and complete a parenting course. Respondent's visitation with her children was made contingent upon clean drug/alcohol screens.
A permanency planning hearing was conducted on 22 April 2004, about a year after the children were removed from respondent's home. The court ordered that the permanent plan was reunification, notwithstanding the court's findings that respondent had failed to obtain substance abuse treatment, had visited with the children only once in the preceding six months, and still had not obtained stable housing and employment. The April 2004 permanency planning order also stated that if Respondent-Mother cannot follow the plan of random drug screens, comply with the substance abuse assessment recommendations and find employment and housing, then the permanent plan for the Juveniles shall be changed in three months.
At the next permanency planning review hearing on 21 July 2004, the trial court found that respondent had not consistently demonstrate[d] the ability to provide a safe and stable home environment and had not complied with the requested drug screens and has not visited with her children since 4 March 2004. The court ordered the permanent plan changed to adoption. Another permanency planning review hearing was held in February 2005, more than two years after DSS began working with respondent. The trial court found that respondent had not visited the children for almosta year, and had not obtained substance abuse treatment. At that point the court ordered DSS to file a petition for termination of parental rights.
The petition for termination of parental rights was filed 2 August 2005 and alleged the following grounds for termination: that respondent had neglected the children; that respondent willfully left her children in foster care for more than 12 months without making reasonable progress under the circumstances towards correcting the conditions that had led to removal of the children from her home; and that respondent had willfully abandoned her children for at least six consecutive months immediately before the petition was filed. N.C. Gen. Stat. § 7B-1111(a)(1), (2), and (7).
A termination of parental rights hearing was conducted on 9 January 2006. Evidence adduced at the hearing included the testimony of Carrie Hennesey, the DSS social worker who worked with respondent after May 2003 when respondent's children were removed from the home. Hennesey's testimony generally corroborated the findings made during review and permanency planning hearings. She testified that respondent had not addressed her substance abuse problem; despite several recommendations, respondent did not obtain substance abuse treatment or participate in a drug education program. Nor had she fully cooperated with providing urine samples for drug screening - she had submitted a suspect urine sample, failed to attend many screens, and claimed to be unable to urinate at others. Respondent also was dilatory in obtaining stable housing and employment, and visited her children only seven timesin over two years. Following presentation of evidence, the trial court found the existence of all three grounds for termination, and concluded that termination was in the children's best interests. On 28 February 2005 the court entered an order terminating respondent's parental rights in the minor children, from which order respondent appeals.
9. [Respondent] has not taken adequate steps to
address her substance abuse issues. . . . she
has not complied with any substance abuse
program during the course of this matter. . .
10. To assess the mother's progress under the circumstances the Court ordered compliance with several items . . . [including] participation in a substance abuse assessment and following the recommendations thereof. The mother has failed [to] . . . comply with this item, despite . . . assessments in 2003 and 2004 and being ordered to participate in inpatient treatment . . . which she failed to do and a recommendation of a six week drug education program in 2004, which she also failed to enroll in[.] . . . Another item was provision of random drug screens[.] . . . [Respondent had] a pattern . . . of avoidance of random drug screens[, and] . . . until the filing of the Petition [she had] . . . only five negative drug screens[.] . . . The remainder [were] . . . not attended by her, [or were] unsuccessful due to an inability to void, or [were] deemed fraudulent[.] . . . [S]ince August 2, 2005, she either missed or could not produce a sample at half of the screens. This continues her . . . pattern of noncompliance with [drug screens.] . . . [For] seventeen months after the removal of the children, the mother did not have stable employment. . . . She did not have stable housing for the first twenty-one months after the removal of the children. . . . In the two years and nine months since the removal of the children in late April of 2003, the mother visited with the children a total of seven times[, and] . . . went from March 4, 2004 until September 27, 2005, a period of eighteen months, without a visit because of her failure to submit three consecutive negative random drug screens[.] . . . [T]he Court notes the mother's efforts . . .[but her] measures of progress are outweighed by [her] . . . lack of compliance in obtaining . . . substance abuse treatment, which continues to this date, her pattern of avoidance, without adequate excuse, of random drug screens . . . and her inexcusable lack of visitation of the children . . . includ[ing] a gap of eighteen months[.] . . .[Respondent] could have been consistently visiting with the children upon the submission of three consecutive random negative drug screens at any time during this matter.
(emphasis added). We conclude that the facts found above are amply supported by clear, cogent, and convincing evidence. We, therefore, conclude that the trial court's determination that respondent willfully failed to make reasonable progress towardcorrecting the conditions that led to [her children's] removal was supported by clear, cogent, and convincing evidence. 'Having concluded that at least one ground for termination of parental rights existed, we need not address the additional ground[s] . . . found by the trial court.' In re S.N., __ N.C. App. __, __, 636 S.E.2d 316, 321 (2006) (quoting In re B.S.D.S., 163 N.C. App. 540, 546, 594 S.E.2d 89, 93-94 (2004)).
As discussed above, we evaluate the trial court's conclusion that termination was in the children's best interests under an abuse of discretion standard:
It is well established that where matters are left to the discretion of the trial court, appellate review is limited to a determination of whether there was a clear abuse of discretion. A trial court may be reversed for abuse of discretion only upon a showing that its actions are manifestly unsupported by reason. A ruling committed to a trial court's discretion is to be accorded great deference and will be upset only upon a showing that it was so arbitrary that it could not have been the result of a reasoned decision.
White v. White, 312 N.C. 770, 777, 324 S.E.2d 829, 833 (1985) (citations omitted). In the instant case, we conclude the trial court did not abuse its discretion by terminating respondent's parental rights. Accordingly, the trial court's order must be
Judges BRYANT and STEELMAN concur.
Report per Rule 30(e).
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